How to Make Visual Novels

Visual novels are a fun medium for bringing stories to life that combine game mechanics, written stories, and visuals into one package. They’re not too hard to make on a technical level, and are a great way to get your voice out there. But it can be daunting to figure out how to make visual novels when you first start out. Let’s go over some basics first.

Update 2024: Added even more links.
Update 2023: Added even more new links.
Update 2020: Added some new links for resources.
Update 2019: Tweaked this some here and there to update it for 2019. Hope you enjoy!

Get Familiar With: Your Terms

So, you want to make a visual novel. Here’s a list of terms you might encounter in visual novel and game dev communities:

EVN / OELVN – stands for English Visual Novel and Original English Language Visual Novel. Two terms used for describing Western VNs that are made in English, although EVN is used more frequently nowadays. An EVN/OELVN is specifically a visual novel made in English first, not a visual novel that has an English translation (and was made in a different language first). There are several variations of this, such as JVN meaning Japanese Visual Novel and RVN meaning Russian Visual Novel.

Kinetic novel – a visual novel that’s linear with few or no choices. Has only one ending. Also called a linear visual novel, linear game, etc.

Game jams – an event where developers have a set amount of time to make a game, ranging from a weekend to several months. Some jams have themes that the games must follow as well as other restrictions while others are more freeform. Nowadays, most jams are hosted on itchio. You can find a list of visual novel game jams here.

Game engine – a piece of software used for developing video games. The most popular ones for making indie VNs are Ren’Py and Unity.

Text/code editor – when programming, you’ll need another piece of software to edit and write code that works with the game engine. Some popular text editors are Visual Studio Code, Sublime, Atom, Notepad, and more.

Character sprite – the individual character art that changes expressions and can move around the screen.

CGs – although it typically stands for Computer Generated, CGs in visual novels typically means the cut scene art where no sprites are shown. CGs are usually reserved for special scenes and are the type of artwork you’d see in a CG Gallery.

UI / GUI – the User Interface / Graphical User Interface. This is what the player interacts with such as the textbox, main menu, save / load screen, settings, and more.

ADV mode – the standard reading mode for visual novels, short for Adventure mode. The textbox is located at the bottom of the screen. Popular examples of this are Steins;Gate and Amnesia.

NVL mode – a different reading mode for visual novels, short for Novel mode. The textbox covers most of the screen. Popular examples of this are Fate/Stay Night and Umineko When they Cry.

Dating simulator – dating sims are some of the oldest forms of visual novels and are essentially stat raisers where you spend time with various characters with the goal being to romance them by getting your stats high enough. In Western spheres dating sim has become synonymous with a romance game, where stat raising is not involved, but it’s important to note that dating sims refer to stat raisers a lot of the time. Unlike otome, a dating sim doesn’t refer to a specific sexual orientation.

Otome / Otoge – roughly translates to “maiden’s love” and is used to describe games with a female demographic, usually dating sims & romance games which feature male love interests and a female protagonist. Some otome games feature female and other gendered LIs, but male LIs are still the primary focus.

Eroge – an erotic game. If a game has sexual content in it, it’s an eroge. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a nukige. Fate/Stay Night is a popular example of an eroge.

Nukige – a hentai or eroge, but one meant solely for showing off sex scenes, i.e. a porn game. If you take out the sex scenes in a game and nothing makes sense, it’s probably a nukige.

(when something ends with -ge, it’s typically partially off of Japanese words, as the -ge stands for “game” [“geimu”])

Get Familiar With: Your Engines

With any game development, you have different engines at your disposal- some free, some more expensive, some good, some bad. When making visual novels, there are several engines to chose from with varying degrees of popularity and features. I have personally only used Ren’Py and Twine.


Your main EVN-making engine. It’s highly used, and for good reason: it’s free, it’s constantly updated, it has a very active community and lots of (somewhat old, somewhat helpful) documentation. It’s the one I personally use and recommend as I feel it’s easy to learn while also allowing the user a lot of room for customization.


Naninovel is different from the other entries on this list in that it’s not a standalone engine but rather a plugin for Unity. While it has a $150 price tag, the plugin is frequently updated with great support from Elringus. If you’ve used Unity before or want to make use of some features Unity has (namely gameplay features), then check Naninovel out.

VN Maker

This engine is newer and as such it comes with bugs and some issues. It’s from Degica, the same publishers as the RPG Maker series- because of this, you can use RPGM assets in VNM. VNM is $60, but is typically on sale and comes with a lot of stock assets from backgrounds to sprites to music. It uses a drag and drop system and some way to code as well. While I don’t have personal experience with it, I have heard that it still has bugs in it that haven’t been fixed for years and they aren’t the fastest at answering emails- as always, try to figure out what you’re looking for in an engine before committing to one.


Another EVN-developing engine- it’s used by some developers with varying degrees of reviews. Some people think the engine works fine, others have used it and would rather use Ren’Py. There are a good amount of differences between the two, the main being that Ren’Py will always be free and TyranoBuilder costs $15. This is a GUI-based software online, so it can be quicker for those who can’t script. Take a look at reviews before purchasing.


Want to make a simple visual novel but don’t care about complicated things like save states or settings? Twine is for you. It’s simple to use but can create amazing stories. Alternatively, you can also use it for planning stories or doing outlines on it. Twine can be used in browser or can be downloaded.

This list is of the major visual novel engines out there, but there are certainly more engines that can be used to make visual novels such as RPG Maker, Unity (namely Naninovel plugin), GameMaker, and more. When picking an engine, try to figure out what you need- are you just trying to get practice and want to hit the ground running? If so, then something like Twine might work. Do you want some custom assets but want premade things such as backgrounds and such and are willing to pay some money to get a lot of premade assets? Then VN Maker might be for you. Want an engine that’s constantly being updated with a big community? Ren’Py is a good choice.

​Get Familiar With: Your Assets

Alrighty, so you got an engine downloaded and you have an idea for a killer story that’s going to be the next kamige. …Now what? Well, let’s start by going over assets you’ll need to make the visual novel.

  1. Character Sprites – every character is going to need a talking sprite so we can see what they look like, unless you’re going for a chat room-like system. Sprites have multiple expressions- I typically make a default set of 8 expressions per sprite (4 talking, 4 non-talking), but I have seen some EVNs use upwards of 50+ expressions per sprite (aka per character).
  2. Backgrounds – where does your game take place? Surely it’s not set in some dark void for the whole game. Show us where the VN is set! Some EVNs can make do with only a handful, but as a rule of thumb any more than 40 backgrounds is on the higher end, even for a 10+ hour long VN.
  3. Story – every VN needs a good story. Some EVNs have only 1,000 words while others have upwards of 100,000—both are fully valid. Just don’t try to overstay your welcome.
  4. Programming – the VN must come together somehow! Someone has got to put all the above together.
  5. Music – the background soundtrack that you hear.
  6. CGs – some VNs are entirely sprites or entirely CGs- it all depends on your vision.
  7. Sound effects – sounds you might hear such as a door creaking, a cellphone ringing, etc.
  8. GUI – Graphical User Interface is everything the player interacts with such as the textbox and save/load. A few tweaks to default UIs can vastly improve the look of a VN.
  9. Voice acting – voices for the characters. Some games have partial VA where interjections are spoken (“wow”, “hey”) while some games have full voice acting where every word is spoken.

For any type of development you want to focus on making a minimum viable product, i.e. the smallest working prototype of your game that you can as fast as you can, and then refine and polish that by adding in extra details like fixing art, adding more sound effects, reworking parts, and more.

Get Familiar With: Misconceptions

Visual novels have been around for several decades now, but parts of them are still misunderstood by wider audiences. Here’s some frequent misconceptions about visual novels.

Every visual novel has sexual content.

Visual novels come in all shapes and sizes, which includes content. Not every visual novel has sexual content, nor is it required to sell well. Visual novels are a medium for storytelling rather than a genre, so they can be anything you want them to be.

Every visual novel is a dating sim.

Similar to the last one, some people think every visual novel is a romance game or a dating sim. Not every visual novel has romance in it, nor is it required to sell well.

Every visual novel has choices and multiple endings.

Some of the most popular visual novels out there like Umineko When they Cry don’t have choices. Choices and multiple endings aren’t required to make a visual novel—completely linear experiences are fine.

Visual novels need to be long.

Some of the top visual novels on right now are under 25k words, which puts them under 2 hours of playtime. Visual novels don’t have to be a certain length—they can be as long or as short as the story needs them to be. There’s even an annual visual novel jam, O2A2, that focuses on making a visual novel under 1k words with limited assets.

Visual novels don’t sell well.

This is very much your mileage may vary. Some visual novels sell very, very well, such as how the recent Our Life: Now and Forever Kickstarter gained almost $300k. Marketing is an entire field just like art and writing and isn’t something you can skimp on or push to the end.

Visual novel players hate reading.

A vast, vast majority of visual novel readers want a visual novel—they want a game that is light on gameplay and heavy on reading. You don’t have to add gameplay to a visual novel to keep people interested. Rather, minigames added at random can deter players. Visual novel players want an engaging story—if you’re worried of losing their attention, then focus on a tighter script or cinematography.

Visual novels need to be anime style.

Visual novels originated in Japan and most do have an anime style, but visual novels do not need an anime style to sell well. The art style for a game will change the audience for the game—players who want something anime style probably won’t be interested in a semi-realistic style, but other people will be. It’s all about finding the right style for your story and finding the audience who responds well to it.

Get Familiar With: Your Resources

Finding software and resources for how to make VNs is hard, but over at VNDev Wiki we’re constantly scouting out even more resources.

Here’s a list of my own curation.

Writing & Design





More resources for making your own VNs

Get Familiar With: Structure

Visual novels come in all sorts and sizes. Some are linear novels with hundreds of thousands of words, some are short, winding experiences with choices at every corner. The structure of the visual novel should match what you’re trying to express with the story.

If you want an emphasis on player control, then having choices dictate the ending would be a good way to go. If you want to tell a story with several what-if scenarios depending on who the player spends time with, then a dating sim or romance game is a good idea. As discussed earlier, visual novels can be however you want them to be—they don’t have to be long and have choices, or they can be as long as complicated as you decide to make it.

Outlining should be your first step after figuring out what kind of story you want to tell- after all, it’s the foundation of the story. Different writers & designers go about outlining in different ways. I’m a fan of writing things out in notebooks and post-it notes, but this isn’t the best way for teams. Google Docs is a good way to write up outlines to share with team members as it allows for commenting. Some teams use Twine for outlining since it allows an easy overview of branching narratives.

Once your outline is done, it’s time for the first draft. Some people write directly into Ren’Py, others write in writing software like Scrivener. If you’re working with a team or will have someone edit your writing, please don’t write directly into Ren’Py- it can make collaboration difficult. Personally, I use Google Docs for my own writing and for team projects as it makes sharing and editing easy.

Get Familiar With: Your Communities

But wait you say, I can do none of those things, I’m just an idea guy! If that’s the case, then you have 3 choices: find people willing to work for free, pay people, or learn how to do something. If you decide to go the route of forming a team, then there’s the option to go to the Lemma Soft Forums (LSF), the main EVN forums on the web. There you can recruit members to your amazing brand new team, see other VNs in development, and even post about your own.

Nowadays, a lot of VN devs have moved to Discord. The largest VN dev community outside Ren’Py is Devtalk, a community I help run. Part of our community is the VNDev Wiki, a community-run wiki full of resources, guides, and more for visual novel developers.

Get Familiar With: Marketing

A lot of indie devs treat “marketing” as a scary word, one we shouldn’t utter. Don’t be afraid of marketing! Marketing should come naturally, as it encompasses the project from beginning to end. Deciding on a name, amount of love interests, aesthetics, etc. are all a part of marketing just like tweeting about the game is marketing. To put it simply, marketing is the way we communicate our games to others.

Most of my blog is mostly dedicated to talking about how to market visual novels- here’s a couple posts to get you started!

Get Familiar With: Publishing

Great, you’ve finished your game in record time. You’re ready to show it to the world after weeks of rewriting, debugging, getting feedback from playtesters, and more. …Or you’ve just finished the last line of code and you’re ready to shove it out the door. Either works.

I won’t get into too many details on publishing to say, Steam, as that’s a whole other beast, but I will talk about your options as a broke EVN developer. You could always upload it to Google Drive or somewhere, make a blog post or a thread in the Completed Games section on LSF, and link it there to be done with it. Or, you can upload it to to reach a bigger audience.

​ focuses on all things indie gaming- hosting game jams, VR games, and even game engines & resources. However, although you have a lot of freedom with what you upload to, so does everyone else. It’s very easy for your game to be lost in the sea of other titles being uploaded every second.

At the end of the day, visual novels are a wonderfully vast medium for storytelling. They can be as big or as small as you want—it’s all up to you.

If you’re still unsure of where to begin, try playing a few indie visual novels to see what your fellow devs are making. There’s new visual novels being released every day, so there’s always something new to try that you’ll be interested in.

Visual novels are something dear to me and I hope this guide will help you make your own. Good luck and remember to have fun!

— Arimia

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